When it comes to cruising vicariously, one man capable of transporting us around the world with his stories is Wesley Dunlop. He’s set to take the helm as captain of Iona, the new P&O Cruises ship and the most exciting ever built specifically for the British market. With the ship’s launch delayed for now, it’ll be a while before he can whisk us away in person. In the meantime, here’s some virtual holiday inspiration, courtesy of P&O Cruises’ very own Captain Dunlop.
Q. What is your background and how has your career led you to where you are now?
A. I began my seafaring career in 1998 and secured a position as a cadet with Airtours Sun Cruises, who operated a fleet of small cruise ships for the British holiday market. I progressed through the ranks to chief officer and was then offered a position with Saga Cruises. I obtained my boatmasters’ license in 2006 and was rapidly promoted to deputy captain at the age of 27. I obtained my first command with Saga at the age of just 30 (the youngest ever in the industry, I believe) and went on to captain all the ships within their fleet. However, when the opportunity came to interview for P&O Cruises, I jumped at the chance, and following a rigorous process I was delighted to be offered the position as captain and haven’t looked back since.
Q. What is your experience with P&O Cruises and what are you doing now?
A. Following my appointment within the company, I was assigned command of Aurora, a beautiful ship and firm favourite within the fleet. For two years I sailed Norway, the Mediterranean, the Canary Islands, the Baltic, America and Canada. I was also captain for her 2017 World Cruise, which was one of my career highlights. At the end of 2017, I was delighted to discover I had been chosen to command Britannia, and what an absolute honour it has been.
Q. What makes working on a P&O Cruises ship different to other ships you’ve worked on before?
A. There are so many differences, and each one positive. I love the diversity we have within the fleet, not only the ships themselves and their sizes but also the varied itineraries we offer – there’s something for everyone. The experience we offer is something I’m extremely proud of too. At the heart it is quintessentially British: I love the fact that in this modern, ever-changing world, the moment I step on board our ships I feel like I’m returning home. I believe this rubs off on our guests, too. We maintain all the classic aspects of cruising, from Afternoon Tea to our formal evenings and Gala Dinners, but we’re also driving the experience forward. For example, the introduction of the show Astonishing from Stephen Mulhern and Jonathan Wilkes has taken our guests into the future of cruising and elevating what is already an unforgettable holiday experience. I’d also like to mention the service offered by our amazingly talented and hardworking crew on board which is, in my mind, the best – not only afloat but also ashore.
Q. When did you find out you’d be working on Iona, and how do you feel about it?
A. I received a call from P&O Cruises last April asking me if I’d like to take command of our new ship in 2020, and for someone who is rarely lost for words, I don’t mind admitting that I was utterly flabbergasted and did in fact ask if they’d dialled the wrong number! Joking aside, it was without a doubt the proudest moment of my career to date and I’m still on cloud nine. To be at the helm of the largest, most innovative, most environmentally friendly, most stunningly beautiful cruise ship ever built for the British market is the ultimate honour for any captain.
Q. How does Iona compare to the other ships in the fleet?
A. Iona is the result of the ‘best of the best’, from the naval architects to the designers to the team at the shipyard, and 180 years of heritage will go into making her the most exciting addition ever to the British cruise industry and holiday market.
Q. How do you approach the task of becoming a leader on board a brand new ship?
A. Iona will no doubt bring its challenges. The introduction of liquefied natural gas (LNG) is a new step for us all, but I’m relishing those challenges. In the lead-up to her launch, my staff and I will undergo a whole new set of training programmes and will spend many months in the shipyard gaining the knowledge and experience needed to operate our new ship.
Q. What will Iona offer guests?
A. Iona will help in creating unforgettable holiday happiness for our guests. She’ll cater for all ages – from the stunning Grand Atrium to the day-to-night magic of SkyDome to a huge variety of places to dine, there’s truly something for everyone.
Q. What’s your favourite thing about working at sea?
A. I absolutely adore my job. From a very young age I always knew I wanted a job where I could travel the world, and I’ve been so lucky to have visited the four corners and pretty much everywhere in between. Combine this with working with the finest crews afloat, on the most beautiful and innovative ships, and I genuinely wake up every morning and pinch myself. I can’t believe how fortunate I am.
Q. What are you most looking forward to about Iona?
A. I can’t wait to see the expressions on our guests’ faces when they step on board Iona. With her stunning design, beautiful vistas and all the facilities she’ll offer, I just know they’ll be saying ‘Wow, this is the life!’